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AAR: More mixed traffic results for U.S. roads in March

U.S. railroads finished off March the same way they started the month, with stagnating carloads and increasing intermodal loads. In March, they originated 1,123,298, down 5.8 percent, and 928,350 containers and trailers, up 3.5 percent compared with March 2011 volumes, according to the Association of American Railroads (AAR).

Twelve of 20 commodity groups posted gains, led by petroleum and petroleum products (34.2 percent), motor vehicles and parts (15.3 percent), steel and other primary metal products (8.3 percent), metallic ores (8.1 percent), and crushed stone, gravel and sand (4.8 percent). Coal volume dropped 15.8 percent, grain traffic declined 9.7 percent and chemical loads fell 3.4 percent.
“There is no denying that coal is a crucial commodity for railroads, and there’s also no denying that recent declines in coal traffic are presenting significant challenges to railroads right now,” said AAR Senior Vice President John Gray in a prepared statement. “That said, it’s encouraging that many commodities that are better indicators of the state of the economy than coal is — things like motor vehicles, lumber and wood products, and crushed stone — saw higher rail carloadings in March.”

For the week ending March 31, U.S. railroads originated 286,962 carloads, down 6.2 percent, and 242,772 containers and trailers, up 3.6 percent year over year. U.S. intermodal volumes remained solid, with western loads up 3 percent and eastern loads up 5 percent in the week, according to Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc.’s weekly “Rail Flash” report.

“Record first-quarter absolute volume reflects continued secular growth of intermodal demand,” Baird analysts said in the report.
For the week ending March 31, Canadian railroads reported 79,654 carloads, up 0.8 percent, and 52,710 intermodal loads, up 12.4 percent. Mexican railroads’ weekly carloads decreased 3.4 percent to 14,889 units, but their intermodal volume climbed 27.8 percent to 9,103 units.
Through 2012’s first 13 weeks, 13 reporting U.S., Canadian and Mexican railroads originated 4,841,717 carloads, down 1.1 percent, and 3,676,196 containers and trailers, up 3.8 percent compared with the same 2011 period.

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